Polly’s Picky Eating Predicament

The evenings are cooling off, trees are starting to change colours, and moms everywhere are preparing for the back to school grind. Polly loves her kiddos, but she is excited to get a bit of a break while her son goes to kindergarten, so that she’ll have more time to take care of her toddler, Parker. As much as Polly loves being a mom – the random cuddles, learning to be curious again and their smiling faces after a long day – sometimes being it’s tough. One of her recent struggles is dinnertime. While her older son will eat just about anything, Parker has limited his intake to slices of cheese and the occasional granola bar. Nothing seems to be working to get him to eat with the family. She has tried playing music at meals, giving him toys to keep him seated and even the occasional bribe of dessert. Every meal ends after 45 minutes of frustration, and almost always, her son “wins” the mealtime battle. She is worried that her son might start losing weight or become deficient in certain nutrients.

Polly’s struggle is not uncommon. Picky eaters in the house can be a constant frustration and worry for parents. Here’s a strategy to help your youngsters develop healthy relationships with food and take some of the stress off mom and dad’s shoulders.

Make mealtime family time. This is very important for many reasons. Taking this time to visit and talk with your family keeps the meal pleasant and relaxed. This sets the stage for children to be curious eaters. Parents are the best role models for their kids. What this means, if you’re constantly commenting on how gross broccoli is, the chances of junior trying it out is slim to none. If every night isn’t realistic, aim to set a small goal such as a few times a week, and make sure everyone’s schedule is blocked off for this time.

Parents decide: what, when, and where. Ellyn Satter devised the “Division of Reasonability,” which is a fancy way to define the feeding roles of both mom and child. For parents, the job is to decide what foods are being prepared, when meals and snacks are eaten, and where this takes place. This creates clear boundaries for children, so they know that they’re getting three meals and two to three snacks everyday and that mom or dad will be choosing what’s on the table. Setting the stage that there will be no snacks, juice or milk in between this time is very important so that kiddos are hungry at meals.

Children decide: whether to eat, and how much. Along with the parent’s role, defining the children’s role in the feeding relationship is equally as important. At each set time, children have the choice of whether they would like to eat, and which foods from those offered they’re going to choose, along with their portions. I know, this concept sounds a bit scary at first for all those picky eater parents thinking “but my kids won’t eat anything I put out!” And that’s fine, children will learn with a meal schedule that if they choose not to eat lunch, they will have to wait for the next snack or dinner.

Patience works better than pressure. I can hear it now “easier said that done.” When children are throwing a tantrum at meals because they “hate chicken and it’s the worst food ever,” it can be hard to calmly enforce the boundaries and tips above. However, this point is very important to keep in mind when things are getting heated to ensure you don’t stoke the fire. Offer healthy foods, including recognisable and new ones, on the table and let them decide. Putting pressure on them through bribing, punishing or tricking can cause negative relationships with food in the long term.

Put children in the driver’s seat, Getting children involved with all aspects in the kitchen will help spark their innate curiosity for foods. Some great ideas can be planting a backyard garden together, taking them grocery shopping with you, having them help wash fruits and veggies and setting the table for meals. At the table, teach them to choose a small amount of food first, and take more if they’re still hungry. They may take too big of a portion the first time, but through guidance and role modelling they’ll learn for themselves what amount of food is right for their body and stay in tune with hunger cues.